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Hunters have become the hunted

Join senior editor Vic Ketchman as he tackles the fans' tough questions.

John from Jacksonville:
Do you think the Titans are as good as their record or are they a team you feel will begin to decline once they begin the tougher part of their schedule? I think we can all agree that their perfect season will end within the next week or two.

Vic: They have Indianapolis and Green Bay at home the next two weeks. Is there something about either one of those teams that I'm missing? I think the Titans are a very good team because they have a number three defense and a number four running game. The issue for them is going to be what they do when opponents take the run away from them. It's going to happen. It happens to all teams that lack balance and I think the Titans could potentially lack balance in their offense. I like Kerry Collins but the Titans' receivers seem to lack big-play ability and that could cause the Titans' running game to suffer the same pangs the Jaguars' running game has, which is to say opponents loading the box to stop the run. At some point, I think it'll catch up to the Titans, but I don't see anything about the Colts or Packers that would suggest they can stop the Titans' running game, especially on the road. The Colts are 29th against the run and the Packers are 26th.

John from St. Augustine, FL:
Thanks for asking Tony Pashos to do the guest column while you were away. That was really cool.

Vic: Ryan Robinson initiated "Ask Tony" and Tony did a great job. Tony has something in him I love in a football player: He's also a fan of the game. Those are the best guys with whom to work.

James from Memphis, TN:
I know the NFL does everything it can to protect the QB, but nothing makes me madder than to watch a QB throw an interception and then make a (weak) effort to tackle the guy. Peyton Manning is the worst (referring to the 99-yard interception return on Sunday). You threw the pass; go make the tackle. It's that simple. Thoughts?

Vic: Peyton Manning is a quarterback. That's all he ever has been and that's all he ever will be. He doesn't run with the ball and he doesn't run after the ball. He does one thing and he does it so well that he's not expected or encouraged to do anything else. The days of Chuck Bednarik are long gone. This is the age of specialization and Manning isn't the only quarterback in the league who couldn't tackle his sister.

John from Cedar Rapids, IA:
I'm surprised no comment about the Colts game. Debbie from Indy said "he's back." What?

Vic: It's a young man's game. Bye.

Ethan from Wampum, PA:
This past Friday was senior night at my high school football game. As the rest of the team and I walked to the field for the start of the game, the pregame ceremonies were still going on. Roughly five minutes later the band was off the field and the coin was flipped. We won and elected to receive. We were then flagged for a delay of game. This was due to our band and other various folks still being on the field and our game starting just six minutes past the scheduled 7:30 start time. They were given five yards from the original kickoff spot. I had never heard of such a penalty, but I guess rules are rules.

Vic: The officials absolutely did the right thing. The game must not be violated.

Bill from Palm Bay, FL:
I'm curious. Where does the money go when the NFL fines a player?

Vic: It goes to NFL Charities.

Dale from Hampton, VA:
I agree the Division I-A college football system is flawed, but what's the motivation to change it? They're making too much money to do anything about it.

Vic: The motivation? The motivation is the integrity of the game they espouse. That's the motivation; to provide for a fair and equitable system for determining and celebrating a legitimate national champion.

Joel from Atlanta, GA:
Peter King has said that with the exception of a rare Adrian Peterson pick, he would never draft a running back in the first round. Clearly, you wouldn't advise drafting a wide receiver that early. Does that mean the first round should basically be reserved for big linemen and QBs?

Vic: I agree with Peter. I don't think the first round is off limits for running backs and wide receivers, it's just that I think you have to apply the principle of supply and demand: There's a great demand for quarterbacks and quality big guys and the supply is limited.

Tim from Jacksonville:
Isn't Florida playing in icy Ann Arbor the same as Michigan playing in icy Ann Arbor, now that Rich Rodriguez is the coach?

Vic: Yeah, but not for the same reason. Rodriguez plays the spread, but he has a big back to pound out the tough yardage. I think you saw that this past Saturday against Penn State. I could be wrong, but I don't think that part of Michigan's game will go away. What is going to go away is Michigan's reputation for strong defense, and it's difficult to win in the cold without a strong defense. Rodriguez never had it at West Virginia and you can see that Michigan has already gotten soft on defense. They keep talking about losing Mike Hart and Chad Henne and Mario Manningham. Hey, those guys didn't play defense. Lloyd Carr left a lot of top recruits; guys other schools would "die" to have. I'll buy the problems on offense; changing systems and losing guys, etc., but there are no excuses for playing that poorly on defense. They got mauled and that's not Michigan football. Under Urban Meyer, Florida has played tough defense. That's the difference. Meyer is an offensive-minded coach who knows the importance of defense.

Zach from Jacksonville Beach, FL:
Harden-Miller, 2008 member-guest champions. Maybe you could have used that trained monkey.

Vic: The whole thing is under investigation. I saw a trail of banana peels all over the course.

Kevin from Orange Park, FL:
What's your reaction to Hines Ward breaking rookie LB Keith Rivers' jaw? I, for one, think Hines Ward is a dirty player. Seems to me most games he purposely stirs up trouble and takes cheap hits.

Vic: I've watched the hit up close and in slow motion several times. I've even stopped the action at the point of impact. The block is clearly made with his right shoulder and there are no signs of using the helmet as a weapon. Ward's feet are on the ground and he is in no way guilty of launching. At first I thought the block might be unnecessary but, on further review, it clearly springs the ball-carrier around the corner and denies Rivers the ability to make the tackle. Dirty? What's dirty about it? There was no flag thrown. Fine him? They should pin a medal on him. In my time covering this game, I have seen head-hunting defensive backs try to cripple defenseless receivers. I saw Jack Tatum and George Atkinson target Lynn Swann; head-shot him repeatedly and even attack him from behind and karate chop him in the back of the neck. I saw Tatum cripple Daryl Stingley for life in a preseason game. I saw Thom Darden hit a receiver over the middle so hard I thought the guy was dead. I remember seeing Jaguars cornerback Dave Thomas crush Jerry Rice in a preseason game and celebrate as though it was the play that won the Super Bowl. In the preseason? How about the launch job on Anquan Boldin a few weeks ago? Well, finally, a wide receiver has come along who has decided to hit back. Ward is striking a blow for all the defenseless receivers over the years who've been targeted by defensive players with an intent to punish. All of a sudden, the hunters have become the hunted. I think everyone in the league is waiting to see what the league does about the Rivers hit. It's going to define what the game has become and where it's going.

Brad from Vancouver, BC:
I just heard that Hall of Famer Gene Hickerson passed away. Any good stories?

Vic: Hickerson was just ending his great career when I started covering the NFL, but I had watched him play for the Browns for years. He played in the era, I believe, when the Browns wore those little brown numbers on the sides of their helmets. Hickerson's number was 66 and he was one of the best pulling guards to ever play the game. That's how guards were defined in those days; by how well they pulled. The enduring picture of Hickerson is of him pulling out from his right guard position and leading Leroy Kelly around right end. Hickerson's career ended at the same time John Hannah's began. It was the perfect segue from the greatest guard in the game to the next greatest guard in the game. All of my memories of the Browns of that era are of "Saturday night in Cleveland." It was a great idea by the Browns to capitalize on the huge seating capacity of Cleveland Stadium and the faction of Steelers fans willing to make the short trip to Cleveland. Those games still top the Browns attendance records. It's how the whole travel thing began. They were great games with great players. Hickerson was one of those players.

Don from Ponte Vedra Beach, FL:
Tell me what you would do to stop the Titans run game. It looks pretty strong.

Vic: If I had corners who were good in man-to-man coverage, I might try some "cover zero" or single-high safety stuff, which is a way of loading up against the run and rushing the passer. I'd test the Titans' passing game to see if they could take advantage of that kind of high-risk stuff.

Mike from Jacksonville:
How do you get interviews and keep the players respect, when you have to ask them tough questions?

Vic: The players expect tough questions. They know we have jobs to do and we have to ask the tough questions. The key, in my opinion, is how you ask them. First of all, I believe a writer has to establish a relationship with a player. Now, when you have a tough question to ask, wait until the cameras and the other reporters have left, and then approach the player. He knows something is up and he appreciates that you're not going to put him on camera. Now ask your question in a simple and respectful manner. He'll answer.

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